What does an Artificial Intelligence Specialist actually do?

Artificial Intelligence Specialist - job, skills, tasks

Featured | Tech

By Loren Webb

In mid December, LinkedIn revealed that Artificial Intelligence (AI) Specialist was the top emerging job for 2020; this may not be of much surprise but it does beg the question of what AI specialists actually do, and what the job entails. What are the exact skills and knowledge businesses need from AI Specialists?

Artificial Intelligence is a huge buzz word, and is discussed regularly in the media, sometimes conjuring images of robot workers and other futuristic scenarios. We want to break through the AI haze and confusion, and drill down on what AI actually is; if these specialists are so in demand this calendar year, what is it that they will actually be delivering for small business?

Dynamic Business has previously explored what AI is, and today we are building on that understanding, with an interview from Jeff Olson, who is Head of Applied AI & Analytics for ANZ, Cognizant.

With Artificial Specialist roles identified as the top emerging job for this year, we ask Jeff what the role actually entails, including the daily tasks, the skills required and most importantly how a person in this role can really drive a business forward.

What actually is an Artificial Intelligence Specialist? What do they do?

An AI specialist is someone who is familiar with the major AI technologies and platforms and knows how to implement them. They can build services such as chatbots, do image recognition and/or natural language processing. The leading edge of high-value AI is with people who are utilising technologies such as deep learning and evolutionary AI. There is still significant progress that can be made with advanced statistical modelling.

Businesses have data and they need to make decisions. The most effective “AI specialists” help their customers make better decisions with their data. The key contribution of an AI specialist is applying these new techniques and technologies to business problems, and solving them in new and creative ways that provide greater insight, accuracy and consistency.

Can you run us through the day-to-day tasks of an AI specialist?

An effective AI specialist spends the greatest part of their day understanding the data, formatting the problem and making sure the solution addresses the business opportunity. Actually modelling and coding take less time, although working through which technologies and approaches work best in a particular situation is often the truest skill of an AI specialist. We are working with a major telecommunications company, for example, building smart devices that can detect and understand words in pictures taken from arbitrary angles. Developing robust and reliable AI for those requirements is a rewarding challenge.

Most importantly, an effective Artificial Intelligence specialist is always focused on business outcome.

Head of AI discusses Artificial Intelligence Specialists

Jeff Olson, Head of Applied AI & Analytics for ANZ, Cognizant

What are the skills required? Is a tech degree needed?

Soft skills are most important in the job. Communication, both verbal and written, is critical. If business customers don’t believe the results, they will not use them.

A deep understanding of the underlying mathematics is also essential. The technologies and languages can always be learned, but the intellectual skills are key. In a more machine learning-oriented program, someone who has math-heavy qualifications like a degree in Econometrics, Physics or Engineering and really understands the data content can be very effective. We value common sense and really strong logical thinking over knowing how to run 100 different algorithms.

How do AI specialists benefit the business they work for?

Some of the best AI value is delivered in simple ways such as automating routine tasks ― perhaps information extraction from documents ― which can provide cheaper processing with greater accuracy. Also, bringing expert decision-making to non-experts ― such as deciding next steps on an insurance claim ― is another key benefit of using good AI specialists. Image analysis has more recently started delivering value with automated fraud or safety detection in security camera feeds, for example.

Lastly, the AI specialist can help uncover new insights by making analysis of extremely large or extremely variable data sets possible. Although it’s very hard to match human experience and intuition, in circumstances where you’re looking at data in the extreme, AI has a definite role to play in uncovering new insights, relationships and understanding.

How can an employer/business get the most out of their AI specialist and AI in general?

To get the most out of their AI specialists and AI jobs in general, employers or businesses must learn the fundamentals of AI and data science so that they, too, can see the opportunities for value realisation and better support their AI specialists. The key to effective support and utilisation of the AI specialist is an effective “data organisation” with a broad AI understanding that goes beyond the introduction of tools and techniques. Artificial Intelligence is not a technology play, it’s a business problem. When I hear clients ask what they can do with deep learning, I think this is a technology-driven solution that will likely have less business impact. The best approach is to first understand the problem, what deliverable will solve it and how the business must change to implement it. Once that is understood, then it’s the right time to consider the data available and proper AI approach.

Projects mostly succeed or fail due to understanding. You can’t spend too much time understanding the business problem and the data. Beyond formatting and quality, you really need to understand how decisions are made from the data and what impact different recommendations will have on those decisions. This is why I prefer AI specialists with an “investigative” background over a technology or “moving data around” background.

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